• Bruin Sports Analytics

FIFA's Team of the Season Strikers

By: Derek Nakagawa and Anish Ravilla

Source: FIFPro

FIFA’s Team of the Season (TOTS) consists of the best players from every team consolidated into one from the previous season. But it’s important to note that the previous season spans the months from August of the previous year to June of the year the TOTS players are announced. In other words, the length of the domestic season. Players are judged based on their performances during league, domestic cup tournaments, and inter-club tournaments like the Champions League, that all occur within this time-frame. However, their performances on the National Team and International Competitions are not taken into consideration because those stats are reserved for FIFA’s Team of the Year instead. The Team of the Season comprises one goalie, four defenders, three midfielders, and three strikers who had the best performances overall in the top leagues.


The only thing we know for sure is that the starting 11 is chosen based on a popular vote from a list of about 40 candidates, around 10 of which are strikers. We are solely going to be focusing on how these players make it onto the shortlist of strikers to be nominated for the Team of the Season because the stats to make it as a defender will obviously be different than the stats to make it as a striker. Our dataset was limited to the collection of offensive statistics only, which includes measures such as goals and assists, which is not enough information to judge the performance of defensive players. It is also important to mention that these TOTS player lists were compiled from a global vantage point, meaning that these players are selected from multiple leagues


So now comes the question, how do you make it onto this highly selective shortlist of players for the Strikers Team of the Season? The easy answer would just be either Messi or Ronaldo who have made it onto the list for the previous 14 seasons, but what did they do to earn this honor? How many goals did they score? Did the amount of assists matter? Does winning a scoring title or League Cup help you make the team? Or does winning an individual award such as the Ballon D'or sway the odds heavily in your favor?


As a striker on the team, there is only one objective and that is to make sure the team scores, whether that is scoring yourself or assisting another player. It is impossible to win games without scoring no matter how good the defense on the team may be. So the first aspect to analyze is the goals and assists of players who made it onto the short list to see at least how many goals and assists they need in order to make it onto the shortlist.


Analysis of Goals and Assists


To conduct this statistical analysis, we looked at data from both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, and analyzed the performances of the players included in the shortlist of forwards for this season. We looked at each player’s combined goals and assists for the season and compared their performances to the other forwards in the dataset.

The red shading corresponds to the statistics of the strikers on the Player of the Season. The vertical blue lines represent percentile values. For the most part, most of the players fall around and beyond the 99th percentile of the dataset for goals and assists, meaning that these players scored more goals and assists than 99 percent of the players in the dataset, which included over 2000 forwards; The 99th percentile for this dataset was 24 combined goals and assists. Indeed, 90% of the players in this dataset scored fewer than 10 combined goals and assists, demonstrating a vast gap between TOTS forwards from the rest of the forwards in their respective leagues.


For reference, here are the players that made the shortlist this season and their goal and assist figures.

We see a similar trend with the 2017-18 season. Let’s take a look at the visualization below:

Similar to the display above, the orange shaded region represents the statistics of the players that made the TOTS shortlist, encompassing the whole world, compared to the rest of the forwards in the dataset. The blue vertical lines represent the percentiles once again. As we can see here, there is more spread out distribution for this season’s TOTS players, with a couple players falling below the 99th percentile; but this can be explained by the presence of midfielders such as Kevin de Bruyne and Paulo Dybala who are generally midfielders that can also play as forwards. However, the majority of forwards still fall above the 99th percentile for this season, which is also 24 combined goals and assists.


For reference, here are the forwards that made the global shortlist for the 2017-18 TOTS:

It is safe to assume that as a general rule, for a forward to be a contender for the TOTS, they must produce figures that place them at least above the 95th percentile. However, it is evident that there are some players that are well above this threshold but are clearly not included in the orange or red shaded regions. Why were these players left out and the others included? In order to answer this question, we must analyze how much of an influence the goals and assists of TOTS forwards contributed to the success of their team. And the best way to analyze team success is through silverware, as the ultimate achievement for any soccer team is to win trophies.


How Important Are Team Trophies & Individual Awards?

Source: Sportskeeda

No matter how impressive the player’s stats are for goal scoring and playmaking, it doesn’t really mean anything without a trophy to go along with it. In total, there are six possible trophies to get per season including the National League Cup, two different domestic league tournaments, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup. This has only happened twice in history (Barca 2009 and Bayern 2020), while the treble has only happened seven times which comes to show how hard it is to win trophies even with a good team. In addition to team trophies, there are individual accolades like the Golden Boot, UEFA Player of the Year, and Ballon D’or that might also have an impact on who makes it on the team.

With a quick analysis of individual awards including the Golden Boot (top goal scorer in each league), Best Player of the League (one per league), Ballon D’or, and FIFA’s Best Player of the Year, we can see that most players who receive an individual award make it onto the shortlist of players for Team of the Season. Of the 18 players who received an award, 13 of them made it into the offensive Team of the Season shortlist. Of the 5 players who didn’t make the shortlist, 3 of them received a Golden Boot, and 2 of them received a Best Player of the League Award. This shows that scoring titles and individual accolades will definitely help get the player on the shortlist, but not guaranteed. With this in mind, we are also going to take a look at the team trophies these players received during their previous season to see what impact they had on their nomination.

In total there are a total of 17 team trophies in a single season, which includes two domestic cups per league (10 total), a League Cup (5 total), UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Super Cup. As we can see, of the 25 nominees, 14 of them were a part of a winning team, while 5 were on teams that won more than one team trophy in the same season. We didn’t expect this since we thought that the Team of the Season would consist of players who were on winning teams, but this doesn’t seem to be the case all of the time as 11 of these players didn’t win a tournament or league cup. However, when taking into account individual trophies, only 5 out of the 25 players didn’t get a trophy which shows the importance of winning to make it into the team of the season. Something interesting we did see is that every player that won both an individual and team award made it into the Team of the Season. Although not mandatory, winning trophies will greatly increase the chances of making onto the shortlist of players for Team of the Season.

Source: FIFPro

Conclusion


There are many great players throughout the season but only so many of them can make it onto the shortlist of FIFA’s Team of the Season. After doing a thorough review of the player’s goals/assists and their number of trophies throughout the season, it is evident that many of the players have something in common. For one, the player needs to contribute at least 24 goals and assists in a season (around the 95th percentile) for them to at least be considered. In addition, strikers are nearly guaranteed to get a spot on the shortlist if they either won 2 individual trophies in the same season or have at least 35 goals contributions (around the 99th percentile). Although winning an individual trophy greatly boosts the chances of making it onto the Team of the Season, whether that is the Golden Boot, Best Player of the League, Ballon D’or, and FIFA’s Best Player of the Year, it doesn’t guarantee a spot. Same thing goes with winning a team trophy but with a team trophy, it doesn’t always reflect the skills of the striker in particular.


Overall, we can see how hard it is to make it on FIFA’s Team of the Season and what stats it takes to be even put into consideration. Strikers are basically guaranteed a spot on the list given at least 35 goal contributions and winning two individual awards. Individual awards and team awards are great and increase the chances of getting onto the team, but doesn’t guarantee it. With these things in mind, it makes predicting who is going to make it into FIFA’s Team of the Season in the coming years.


Sources

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